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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  March 18, 2011 8:30am-9:00am EDT

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>> good evening, from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with within of the most influential figures in the music business, clive davis, the man who launched the careers of bruce sprinsteen, whitney houston and carlos santana, will be honored here tomorrow night at the grammy. and lawrence goldstone is here. his latest text, "inherently unequal," is a look at the role of the supreme court at the beginning of the jim crow era. we're glad you joined us. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading.
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>> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley, with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to improveis in working to improve financial literacy and working to remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. >> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: it is an thorn have clive davis on this program. back in 1967, he became president of columbia records and helped usher in a golden age
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of popular music. in 1974, he founded arista records. artists like billy joel, boss scaggs, bruce sprinsteen, whitney houston and alicia keys and so many, many more. tomorrow in los angeles, the theater at the grammy museum downtown will be renamed the clive davis theater. clive davis, you're a bad man. >> thank you. >> congratulations on the honor. >> thank you. tavis: does it make you feel old when people start naming stuff after you? >> the truth is, it doesn't. it really is very heartwarming and i'm tremendously grateful. that's a major thrill. tavis: it's impossible in a 30-minute show, one-hour show, to do justice to all that you have done, but the one question above all else i've been dying to ask you all these years is how do you develop the ear? do you play instruments? >> i play no instruments. tavis: that's what i wondered. >> i did not develop my ear.
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i discovered i had an ear and it was an accident. i was a lawyer, three years out of law school. i was made chief council for columbia records and five years later i was made president. and i looked, i watched for a while for maybe a year until i found myself at the montery pop festival and i saw a revolution. i saw a social revolution, a musical revolution, and i saw an artist there, janice joplin, big brother and the holding company, with a vibrating and electrifying and just the most inspiring, spine tingling white soul sister that you would ever see and i got this, if you will, it sounds like a cliche, maybe an epiphany, maybe that tingle, and i said, you know, you've had this job as head of the company
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for a year, music is changing, a revolution is in the air and i signed big brother and the holding company and i started trusting my instinct. very shortly after that was what came and bill graham asked me to go see santana at the fillmore west in san francisco. i kept trusting my instinct. it was working and it went on from there. tavis: i know this is impossible to answer, but when you say trust your instinct, when you run the list and we haven't mentioned aretha and all the other artists so we're not doing justice to the list of people you worked with. when you say you discov remouu . yiow ho yu out how you developed this ear that you know when you need to sign this person. >> i don't read music so aerttmath er of a matter of initially i was dealing with arlf contained
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sti st artists who wrote their own material and who were self contained. later, when i founded arista records and i looked at the words, a& r, artists and repertoire and there w there were great artists like aretha franklin who had a golden voice but did not write, i then started to develop songs and the construction of songs and what songs with the combination of melody and lyric could be hit songs for artists that don't write. one, common sense, also, an immersion in music that became my passion. the discovery of artists, when you know that someone not only has a good voice, but a great voice, like a whitney houston or a combination of a great voice and also an incredible ability
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to write like a young renaissance woman, like alicia keys. tavis: have you figured out yet in a language that you can share with us the definition for what makes a good song? you just talked around that. but how does clive davis describe, define what a good song is? >> i don't listen to a song without also studying the lyrics because to me the lyrics of most songs -- i'm not talking about dance songs which is becoming more and more popular today, but i'm saying to know when you really are seeing and feeling a copyright, it's the melody, it's the hook of the song. does that melody stay with you, can you hum it back after you hear it, is it memorable, and then the lyrics. certainly if it's ballad, if
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you're looking for "i will always love you" you're listen to a ballad and seeing what impact it has on you. doesn't mean that in hip-hop or in today's dance world that the lyric is less, not for rap, but the lyric is less for dance records, but when you're appraising the copyright, you're appraising the lyric and you're appraising the hook. how does it stay with you. tavis: because you've worked with some of these names and every music genre that there is, what's the thread that goes through all of that, the consistency, the continuity? >> good question. the consistency, for me, is can this artist become a headliner. i'm not into one-hit-wonders. i'm as much into the discovery of the new artists that you mentioned or the extending of a career of a great artist, of an
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areith aof a dion, when i signed luther vandross or what we've been doing with rod stewart. the key example of long lasting is carlos santana. santana was the third artist i ever signed. we reunited in the late 1990's. we did "supernatural" together. the key ingredient it can they be a headliner so that after the 15th anniversary of arista, when cbs did a network special or after the 25th anniversary of arista, when they also did a network special, it was a matter of going through each of the artists that performed, it was a glowing feeling for me, because there was barry manilow, a headliner and whether you're a rock 'n' roller or not, you have
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to understand the criterion, they can lift an audience out of their seat. so whether it was manilow or aretha or brooks & dunn or kenny g or t.l.c. or usher or outkast or puffy's camp with himself and of course he had biggie on there. they're all headliners, no matter whether it was hip-hop, whether it was pop, whether it was country, whether it was instrumental. these artists can all fill madison square garden. tavis: you have been up, you've been down, you've been employed, unemployed, you've worked for, you've owned. what's the takeaway from all these years of survival in the music business? >> survival, firstly, i've had one occasion where i was not
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employed. otherwise, and then a wrote a book on my life in music. and i started arista records. and even under those circumstances, i always knew that with music as part of my life, part of who i am, that it would be my lifetime work and so that it's really been great for me. i mean, in the sense that i've enjoyed it enormously. the loyalty that i have from the team of people that have worked over the lifetime of my career, the life has been great and it's been really up, up, up. i have to pinch myself, you know, to see that, yes, we had to go from columbia to a brand new company, arista, or a brand new company, j records, but the first records for each of these went straight to number one, so
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you didn't have the normal anxiety worrying about would this company make it when we started j. i mean, there was alicia, there was luther coming in, there was buster rhymes joining us. so over the 25 years of arista, whether it was celebrating the 10th anniversary of j along with arista, the many years where i headed all of it with r.c.a. as a label, to me, it's been one success after another and it's been eye-opening and you do have to pinch yourself, my god. and i get as much enthusiasm so that in these years when i'm working with leona lewis or jennifer hudson and we sell eight million albums around the world or this great american
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songbook, sells 22 million over four volumes with rod stewart, after all the years of manilow and whitney and alicia, so that i'm not bragging, i'm just telling you, in my head, we've never had a dry period. tavis: this conversation has to end because i'm feeling like a slacker. i feel like i ain't done nothing in my career yet. you talk to clive davis and all this guy has done and most importantly, he's still doing it. that's why he's in town, to be appropriately honored for all he has done and continues to do in the world of music. i can't imagine living in in a world without music but imagine living in a world without the music of the names he's worked with. good to have you here. up next, historian and constitutional scholar lawrence goldstone.
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tavis: lawrence goldstone is a noted historian and constitutional scholar who previously appeared on this program for his terrific book on slavery called "dark bargain." his latest is "inherently unequal." lawrence goldstone, good to have you back on the program. >> thank you for having me. tavis: most of us saw the president's state of the union speech a few weeks ago. relative to this book, though, my mind went back to his first state of the union speech where he made a comment about a decision that the supreme court made and samuel alito sat there and couldn't take the president criticizing with the supreme court sitting on the front row a supreme court decision. i start with that, because i'm curious how it is you think that people respond these days to a book so harshly criticizing the u.s. supreme court. >> i think it depends on whether you agree with the thesis or
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not. people who view the court as being largely political, which i do, i think i did a very good job of taking a period and making it clear in a narrative way. people who think that the court is not political but is a group of people who just sit and deliberate and come down on the side of a question regardless of their own views think i'm taking an unfair shot. so a lot of it depends on how it's read. tavis: speaking of your comment about the supreme court being political in the minds of some, there are three great quotes, one from bob dylan, one from oliver wendall holmes and one from powell. the quote reads, "many lawyers claim that the constitutional law is not law but politics. perhaps all law is more politics than some may be willing to confess. do you agree with that? >> yes, yes.
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i knew i had to put that quote in the front of the book because when you had in the period i'm talking about, we had three constitutional amendments at the end of the civil war. one abolished slavery, one guaranteed the right to vote and another guaranteed equal justice under law. for a period of 30 years, the court came down with decision after decision which narrowed -- they didn't say you can't say an amendment is unconstitutional, it's in the constitution. but they rewrote it little by little by little that by 1900 black people in america had no writes, they couldn't vote, we had complete segregation which was against the amendments. now, if this is not a political action, i don't know what is. tavis: but how do you explain to folk, certainly young folk who are taught every day in civics class, in history class, that the supreme court is an apolitical body? >> it's very difficult because
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everywhere you read, the two political branches of government, the executive and the legislative, as if the court is somehow different. but i would say, look at key decisions, how many times does a justice render a decision that goes against his ideology? bush versus gore, five conservative justices vote for bush, four liberal justices vote for gore and i don't distinguish between conservative and liberal justices. i think that people bring their own particular point of view to the law and it isn't necessarily that they're cynical. this is how they see things. but politics in a democracy is people seeing things in different ways, getting together, and coming to some consensus. but the difference in the court is, these people are appointed, they serve for life, and the only way you can get somebody off the court is to impeach them and that's almost impossible to do so we have anointed this body
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to tell us what the constitution says and we, the people, have no recourse. tavis: to your point about not having recourse. i think it is impossible, it is unavoidable that people are going to bring their whole sestles, all of who they are, all of their experiences, their beliefs, et cetera, we bring our whole selves to everything we do, including the u.s. supreme court. so it's impossible that people will separate everything they think or believe from how they ajudicate. but secondly, i'm not so sure that's necessarily a bad thing. what's wrong with having some tension on the supreme court about how we view these issues? why should it be my way or the highway, one way or the other way? >> i agree with you completely. i'm with james madison. he said you throw a bunch of people interest a room, let them hash out an issue based on their own points of view and you will
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come to consensus that will serve not everyone, but a lot of people. what disturbs me with these justices and with the current justices is we have a group of people saying, i know what the constitution says. it's just what you said, my way or the highway, that we now have a segment of the judiciary and scholars who say the constitution means this. i know it means this and it only means this. tavis: are those strict constructionists? >> yeah, but thee vague. the genius of the constitution was that the people who drafted it wrote it to be a flexible document, not to have one solid meaning all the time. there are any number of clauses i can point out that it's not possible to know exactly what they mean yet we have a tea party movement, talk show hosts, conservative politicians screaming that anyone who brings an interpretation of the constitution different from
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theirs is an activist, as if this was a terrible flaw in our democracy but it's a strength. tavis: tell me about the types of foku on the court. it's fascinating to go case by case for how you build how the supreme court over years did in fact betray the equal rights of those in the country, certainly of african-americans. tell me about those who found their way on to the court and whether or not they were all of one political ideology or mixed political ideology. but they obviously agreed on one issue, they wanted to deny the negroes rights. >> yes. they were reflecting popular sentiment. even though constitutional amendments and civil rights acts were passed, most of the country wanted nothing of sharing theater rows with blackux people or restaurants with black people. the "new york times" wrote a
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scathing editorial after the civil rights act of 1875 was passed saying, this has set government back 200 years and they always did it in the name of liberty. just like today. they're saying, we have to get the federal government out of this. the federal government is taking too big a role. individual liberty and individual liberty was a code word for denying black people rights but most of the justices who were on there were corporate lawyers in the second half of the century so they reflected a pro-business, a very pro-white, pro status quo ideology. tavis: you start the book with an absolutely -- this word won't do justice to it -- ghastly, harrowing story of a particular lynching. tell the story quickly. i'm curious as to why you decided to start the book with that story. >> there was a man named sam in
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georgia. he was a laborer. he taught himself to read. he found his mother was ill. he asked his employer for time off. the employer refused and sam hose evidently talked back which is unthinkable. the owner spent all night stewing about it, came back with a gun, said he was going to use it. sam hose threw a hatchet, he was chopping wood, and killed the man. he was tracked down and the atlanta newspapers made it lurid that he had raped the wife which was completely untrue, killed the children, which was completely untrue. they caught him, brought him back and in front of 4,000 people, many of whom had taken a train from atlanta, he was burned at the stake twice. he was burned. he fell out. they put him back in. after he was dead, his organs were removed, his fingers were cut off. it was the most ghastly, horrific -- i've written about the middle ages and i've never
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seen anything like this. and 4,000 people watched -- women, children. people brought their children to watch this lynching, this burning, in 1899 and the reason i put it in was in the that a supreme court justice was present, but the decisions of the court, disemboiling the 14th amendment, making it impossible for black americans to seek equal justice under the law, made these kinds of incidents happen. tavis: even if you disagree politically with abolishing slavery or giving colored people equal rights, even if you agree with that part politically, i'm trying to understand what it was about these men over these years that didn't allow them to connect with the humanity. you tell a story like that, we may disagree politically but i'm trying to understand how you don't understand how you can't
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appreciate my humanity. >> well, it's one of two reasons. i wasn't -- i can't get inside their heads. but there was a large segment of the population that did not see black people in the same -- i'm not saying they weren't human, but they weren't the same kind of human. they were fundamentally different, fundamentally inferior. there was a movement called social darwinism spreading through the country at the time, oliver wendell holmes, andrew carnegie subscribed to it that said if you are doing well in societyised because you deserve to and if you are doing poorly in society it's because you deserve to and therefore black people who by and large were doing poorly in society deserved where you were and the last thing you wanted to do is to make it easy for people who were fundamentally inferior to move
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into the mainstream of society because then you make society worse. we look at social darwinism today and laugh at it but if you look at the roster of people who believed in that philosophy, including many supreme court justices, you get a sense that protecting the rights of a group of people they considered fundamentally inferior was not a big deal. tavis: our time is up. we may laugh at social darwinism, hear is labeled social darwinism, but in effect, there are still a whole lot of folk -- i digress. you get my point. we ain't working hard enough yet to lift people out of poverty. we do still think if this is where they are, they deserve to be there. that whole notion still exists in our society, though. >> oh, yes, oh, yes. it's much easier to think of that when you've got a lot of money and you're doing well yourself. tavis: the new book is called
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"inherently unequal, the betrayal of the supreme court." you will not find a better case-by-case analysis of what the supreme court did over the years by a number of justices to uneven the playing field even more than it already was. good to have you on the program. that's our show tonight. see you back here tomorrow night on pbs. until then, good night from l.a., keep the faith. >> for more information on today's showing, visit tavis jo. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you.
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>> you allp us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley, with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and removelec empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you.ou. captioned by the national captioning institute
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